Obituaries: Eric Hope

Tim Bullamore
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:21

IN THE absence of a wet T-shirt, spiky hair or an exotic-sounding name, many leading instrumentalists have struggled to be seen or heard during the past two decades. Marketability has overtaken technical ability in the concert hall, on television and on record sleeves.

Eighteen months before his death during a concert in Nottingham for the Theosophical Society, of which he was a member, the concert pianist Eric Hope made a half-hearted attempt to address this problem. Through a series of expensive advertisements and against the advice of friends and colleagues, Hope announced that, following extensive research into his family's history, he wished to be known as Erik Khopinski. Sadly, it was a case of too little, too late. Eric Hope was among an ever- growing list of world-class instrumentalists neglected by modern fashion and taste.

Hope could trace his pedagogical lineage back to Clara Schumann (1819- 96) twice over. His teacher Kathleen Arnold, with whom he studied privately in London, was a pupil of Schumann's most distinguished student, Fanny Davies. Meanwhile, the pianist Solomon - who was an important influence and whose Hampstead home Hope eventually acquired - was taught by another of Schumann's illustrious pupils, Mathilde Verne.

One edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians described Hope as

one of the most thoughtful and versatile pianists today . . . who belongs to the school of thoughtful players of which Busoni was the greatest representative. Like that master, he never exploits a surpassingly fine technique for its own sake, but makes it serve exclusively the music of his choice.

He was dropped from later editions.

Born in 1915 of Baltic descent, Hope was educated at Warwick School. He was auditioned by leading figures of his day including the conductor Sir Henry Wood and the composer Sir Arthur Bliss and made his London debut at the BBC Promenade concerts. He could be heard regularly with the London Philharmonic, London Symphony and Halle orchestras under the batons of conductors such as Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Adrian Boult and Sir John Pritchard. During the Second World War Hope was a conscientious objector.

He became renowned as a specialist in the works of Bach, Liszt and Debussy, although he struggled with the music of Clara Schumann's great friend Johannes Brahms. Recalling the day when - intellectually speaking - he and Brahms parted company, Hope once said: "As I wrestled with a particularly turgid, cloying piece, I realised I need never play Brahms again, and a great weight lifted from me."

Similarly, contemporary music sat uneasily in his repertoire. When asked how he had played an especially nasty piece from memory, Hope replied: "I remembered it for the performance and, thankfully, forgot every single note thereafter."

The critics were generous. Following his Wigmore Hall debut in January 1994, The Times wrote that Hope showed that "he had an ear for sonority and a sense of style", and that the "tone and phrasing together guaranteed Mr Hope's claim to attention as a pianist with a distinctive musical personality".

With his partner Jack Sarch, a barrister and amateur playwright, Hope founded the Pro Arte Society in the 1940s. The couple invited theatrical luminaries such as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Dirk Bogarde to appear in concerts of words and music, events that drew large audiences to the Royal Festival Hall. The final Pro Arte Society concert was at the Purcell Room in June 1988 and served as a memorial concert to Sarch who had died earlier that year, although Hope's appearances in later life at the Wigmore Hall and St John's, Smith Square, were under the aegis of the society.

In 1973, Hope joined the staff of the Royal Academy of Music and was made an Honorary Member in 1978. He also taught at the London College of Music and Media and was president of Birmingham University Music Society.

Hope was elected a member of the Supreme Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem in 1982 and became a Knight Templar in 1983. Although very few of the younger generation of concert-goers had the opportunity to hear Hope perform, his work survives in a series of recordings of Beethoven sonatas made for the BBC.

Tim Bullamore

Eric Arthur Hope (Erik Khopinski), concert pianist; born Stratford-upon- Avon, Warwickshire 17 January 1915; died Nottingham 2 August 1999.

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